Pot bust hearing moved to April 5; council set to debate regs Monday

A preliminary hearing for a Homer man charged with illegally growing marijuana was held and continued at the Homer District Courthouse last Friday. Seward Magistrate George Peck, filling in for Judge Margaret Murphy, set a new date for Joseph Gabryszak, 32, to 3:30 p.m. April 5, also at the Homer Courthouse.

Gabryszak attended telephonically and is out on bail. His lawyer, Evan Barrickman, also attended telephonically and said he is in negotiations with prosecutors on a possible plea deal. 

A public hearing on a proposed vote on whether or not there should be a ban on commercial cannabis in the city of Homer is 6 p.m. Monday at the Homer City Council meeting. If that ordinance passes, a vote would be held on April 19.

In February, Homer Police charged Gabryszak with three counts of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, with one count for intentionally manufacturing a controlled substance, one for possessing more than 25 marijuana plants and one for maintaining a building used for keeping controlled substances.

Police alleged Gabryszak ran a marijuana grow operation on Collie Street off of East End Road. Police and members of the State Drug Enforcement Unit, Soldotna, on Feb. 12 seized about 1,000 plants worth $1 million to $1.5 million from a 4,500-square-foot building.

In charging documents, police said Gabryszak also lived in an apartment in the building. Gabryszak told police he’d worked road construction for several years to finance his cannabis grow operation.

“He (Gabryszak) stated it was about to be legal to grow marijuana and he wanted to know if he could do it,” Homer Police Officer Ryan Browning wrote in his complaint.

Police also seized grow lights and ballasts worth about $25,000.

While the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Boards started accepting applications last month for commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale, no licenses have yet been issued in Homer for commercial grows.

Ballot Measure 2 “carved out” as legal personal and medicinal use of cannabis as well as licensed, regulated commercial cannabis activities, said Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Boards. Adults age 21 or older can possess up to six plants in their homes with three being mature, budding plants. According to the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board website, the statute legalizing cannabis, AS 17.30.020, doesn’t specify how many plants can be in a home if there is more than one adult living there.

The Alaska Legislature may consider a law limiting possession to 12 plants per household. The statute also doesn’t set a limit on the amount of harvested cannabis that can be possessed. Personal use and cultivation cannot be done to circumvent licensing regulations.

Any use of cannabis outside personal and medicinal use and licensed commercial use remains a criminal offense, Franklin said. The board also can impose civil penalties on unlicensed operations.

The Homer City Council at its Feb. 22 meeting also passed an ordinance regulating commercial cannabis activities by zoning district, but that ordinance also set a moratorium on commercial activities until voters reject a ban on commercial cannabis. Collie Street is in the East End Mixed-Use zoning district, and all commercial cannabis activities would be allowed there if the zoning ordinance takes effect.

The zoning ordinance is up for reconsideration at the Monday’s Homer City Council meeting. There also is a second hearing and public hearing on the ordinance introduced by Homer Mayor Beth Wythe to hold a vote on whether or not there should be a ban on commercial cannabis in the city of Homer. 

A legal, 1,000-plant cannabis grow would have yielded about 6,000 ounces of product, with a state excise tax of $50 an ounce for $300,000 collected. The Homer sales tax of 4.5 percent on $1.5 million would earn the city $67,500.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.